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New CDC report says adult obesity still growing in U.S. - What's a person to do?

November 12, 2015
Dish of ice cream

After years of public health campaigns to help educate Americans about healthy eating habits and the importance of exercise, a new report published on Nov. 12 by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics claims obesity is still rising among American adults – up from just over 30% a decade ago.

That comes as no surprise to bariatric surgeon Dr. John Romanelli at Baystate Medical Center.

“When we talk about such a major systemic disease as obesity and an accompanying major public health initiative, it takes at least 10 to 20 years to see a decline begin to set in. Take smoking as an example. Real prevention strategies began in the 1980s and despite the fact that smoking is still on the rise among the 18-25 age group, it is dropping in other groups,” Dr. Romanelli said.

“The same holds true for obesity. But there is still not a large enough public health initiative to fight obesity. It would take millions of dollars more and the government’s greater attention, along with offering incentives to people, to help those numbers really begin to really move downward. Imagine if you were offered a reduction in your health insurance premiums to lose weight, and how much that would motivate people,” added the hospital’s medical director of the Adult Weight Management Program.

Health risks of obesity

Obesity is a major concern among health professionals like Dr. Romanelli, because it is associated with many major health risks.

“Every body system is affected negatively by obesity. Obesity contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, breathing problems, diabetes, acid reflux, sexual dysfunction, psychological problems and some cancers including breast, prostate and colon,” Dr. Romanelli said.

Monitoring calorie intake

So, what’s a person to do?

“One of the first things we can do on our own to help curb obesity is to be knowledgeable about how many calories we take in during the day. The simple equation as to whether we gain or lose weight is ‘calories in minus calories out.’ So, if you take in more calories than you burn in a day, then you gain weight. It would shock most people to know that cup of coffee they drink from their favorite coffee stop is hundreds and hundreds of calories. Yet, if you look carefully at their menu, it will tell you how many calories are in the drink. Even fast food restaurants are posting today how many calories are in their menu items, and those aren’t good food choices. We just have to pay attention,” Dr. Romanelli said.

Get moving

In addition to being knowledgeable about calorie intake, the Baystate weight loss expert said people need to exercise more.

“Americans are terrible when it comes to exercise. We are not getting enough calorie burning exercise on a regular basis to make the ‘calories out’ go up. Walking to the mailbox every day to get your mail may be good for your legs, but it’s not a calorie burning exercise. So, it’s all about going to the gym or learning about what exercises are good to do at home to help lose weight,” said Dr. Romanelli.

Weight loss surgery

While Dr. Romanelli said he is sensitive to those who cannot exercise due to some medical conditions, he noted there is surgery available for those who are severely obese, which he defined as being 100 pounds over your ideal body weight.

“Only one percent of those who qualify seek weight loss surgery. Part of the problem is that people don’t realize that obesity is an illness and don’t treat it as an illness. But, it is a major disease that is being undertreated and that is why numbers will rise,” he said.

Fast facts

Among other key findings from the report, Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States 2011-2014, include:

  • From 2011-2014, the prevalence of obesity was just over 36% in adults and 17% in youth.
  • More women (38.3%) were obese than men (34.3%). Among all youth, there was no difference between boys or girls.
  • The prevalence of obesity was higher among middle-aged (40.2%) and older (37%) adults than younger (32.3%) adults.
  • More whites, blacks and Hispanics were obese than Asian adults and youth.
  • Nearly 9 percent of preschoolers were obese, versus more than 17 percent of kids aged 6 to 11. Among teens, more than 20 percent were obese.
  • The prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults remains higher than the Healthy People 2020 goal of 30.5%. Although the overall prevalence of childhood obesity is higher than the Healthy People 2020 goal of 14.5%, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 2–5 years is below the goal of 9.4%.

The CDC defined obesity based on BMI (body mass index – a calculation of body fat based on height and weight) for both youth and adults. Those adults with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 were considered obese. Obesity in youth was defined as a BMI of greater than or equal to the age- and sex-specific 95th percentile of the 2000 CDC growth charts.

“So, begin a conversation with your doctor about healthy weight loss strategies. That’s a good first step, along with learning to make the right food choices and engaging in regular calorie burning exercise,” Dr. Romanelli said.

Figures cited in the new study came from data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing nationwide survey of American children and adults.